Extraordinary Wines, and the Beauty of Nature in Yosemite!

Tasting Notes

Moderating the Grand Grape Celebration again this year, at the historic Majestic Hotel (aka Ahwahnee Hotel) in Yosemite, was an honor and a pleasure.  The vintners for this session, “The Goddesses of the Grape” included Beth Nickel, Far Niente; Mia Klein, Selene Wines; Susie Selby, Selby Winery and Shauna Rosenblum, Rock Wall Wine Company.  Under the top-notch direction of Special Events Manager, Kathy Langley, and the entirely competent staff, this is one of the most spectacular wine events on the planet.  Imagine combining extraordinary wines, fine dining, and the splendor of nature surrounding you in Yosemite, it doesn’t get much better than that!

The noteworthy wines below were among the gems presented by this esteemed panel of women vintners:


En Route 2014 “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir; Russian River Valley, California:  Aromas of a walk in the woods arouse the senses.  Lively and pure as the first taste crosses your lips, with red cherry, raspberry compote, a touch of oak and savory spice box notes tantalizing the palate.  A thread of minerality holds firm throughout, adding depth and complexity.  The wine is precisely balanced and elegant, with a silky, lingering finish that seems to go on forever. SRP:  $67  www.farniente.com

Nickel & Nickel 2013 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Scents of cassis and black cherry segue to complementary flavors of spiced plum jam, boysenberries, dark cherries, cassis, black licorice and fresh tobacco.  Hints of oak are nicely placed in the background (aged 18 months in French oak barrels), adding further dimension.  Focused and complex with concentrated fruit, a solid backbone of tannins, immaculate balance and plenty of length; an ageworthy selection. SRP: $110 www.nickelandnickel.com

Bella Union 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley, California:  Dark fruit aromas are enticing, and in the mouth this wine really delivers, with flavors of ripe blackberries, plum pudding and Bing cherries accented by nutmeg and well-integrated oak spices from French oak aging.  This Cab is ultra smooth with velvety tannins and fine balance.  This is the second vintage of Bella Union Cab Sauv; the 25-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard along Bella Oaks Lane shows magnificent promise for years to come.  SRP:  $85 www.bellaunionwinery.com

Far Niente 2010 Dolce; Napa Valley, California:  Perfumed aromas draw you into this exquisite late harvest dessert wine.  Composed of late harvest Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, it is reminiscent of a fine Sauternes. Decadent layers of apricot, orange zest, butterscotch candy, fresh guava and a dollop of honey saturate the palate.  The lively acidity and bright citrus accents keep the wine beautifully balanced, and the finish will put you in a dream-like state.  SRP:  $85 (375 ml) www.farniente.com


Selene Wines 2014 Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc; Carneros, Napa, California:  The first vibrant sip puts you in a celebratory mood; more please!  This wine is fresh and juicy with Honeydew melon and Asian pear at the center, surrounded by generous lemon and lime citrus notes and a touch of lemongrass tea.  The balance is spot on, and the wine remains upbeat and energetic through the bright and lasting aftertaste.  SRP:  $22.50 www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2004 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  This red blend, crafted of 60% Cab Franc, 22% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon presents a stunning bouquet, which may convince you to stay there enjoying the fragrance for a long while.  On the palate, red raspberries, loganberries and blueberries join hands with savory spice, graphite, a hint of smoke and underlying oak notes.  The tannins, fruit and acids are in perfect balance through the lasting finish.  SRP:  $50  www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2005 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  For the 2005 vintage of Chesler, the blend is 50% Cab Franc and 50% Merlot.  Violets on the nose lead to a core of dense blueberries and red plums, marrying seamlessly with pipe tobacco, tarragon spice, a pinch of fresh mint, and chocolate overtones.  Marvelously textured and focused with refined tannins, it keeps your attention through the finish, that lingers with subtle oak and lovely savory notes. SRP:  $50 www.selenewines.com

Selene Wines 2006 Chesler; Napa Valley, California:  The 2006 vintage, a blend of 62% Cab Franc and 38% Merlot, offers up floral notes, dark fruits and spices that tempt the senses.  Complex and well balanced with blackberry, blueberry, and wild berry fruits entwining with graphite, hints of tar, and a very slight suggestion of roasted green bell peppers peeking through on the back of the palate.  Well structured, this wine shows pristine balance, purity of fruit, well-integrated oak and good length.  SRP:  $40 www.selenewines.com


Selby Winery 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel; Sonoma County, California:  This is a delightful example of old vine Zinfandel, America’s sweetheart grape, crafted from vines that range from 40 to 110 years of age.  Welcoming aromas of ripe berries and spice elements carry over to the juicy expression on the palate.  Bing cherries, olallieberries and raspberry preserves take center stage, entwining with fresh ground multi-colored peppercorns and hints of oak; jammy and delicious.  SRP:  $26  www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2015 Chardonnay; Russian River Valley, California:  Here is a zesty Chardonnay broadcasting lemon blossom and orchard fruit on the nose.  Creamy and elegant on the palate with layers of Bosc pear, Crenshaw melon, fresh snipped herbs, citrus and oak nuances (from French oak aging).   There is an appealing richness to this Chard, and the level of acidity beautifully balances the succulent fruit.  Finishes with verve and persistence.  SRP:  $32  www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2014 Sangiovese; Russian River Valley, California:  Cherries and a touch of earth start the ball rolling at first whiff with this exceptional Sangiovese.  The fruit comes from a steep hillside vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Vanilla bean, cinnamon and nutmeg spice accent the red cherry and raspberry flavors that are carried across the palate with a nice level of acidity, keeping the wine impeccably balanced. The finish lingers, with savory herbs and spice.   SRP:  $26 www.selbywinery.com

Selby Winery 2014 Azevedo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Russian River Valley, California:  Highly aromatic, this delectable Cabernet Sauvignon opens with inviting scents of dark fruit and eucalyptus.  Flavors of cassis, Black Beauty plums, fresh spearmint, leather, mocha and tobacco spices meld in harmony on the palate.  The toasty oak (from 22 months in French oak), is well integrated.  Solidly structured, with refined tannins and good length.   SRP:  $42  www.selbywinery.com


Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Sparkling Grenache Rosé; Yolo County, California:  This vibrant sparkling wine engages the senses with floral notes and fresh strawberries on the nose.  The wine dances on the palate, with a lively bead transporting delicious flavors of cranberry, red apple skin and lemon zest framing the juicy strawberry fruit.  Hints of allspice and blood orange chime in as this shimmering bubbly makes its way to a lifted finish.  SRP: $24 www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Fiano; Sutter County, California:  Dive in and enjoy this refreshing white wine crafted from the Fiano grape (more widely grown in Southern Italy). From first whiff, it is bright and clean with a melon and roasted hazelnut aroma.  Tropical fruit, honeyed almonds, hints of banana bread and a generous splash of tangerine fill the mouth. I love the high acids and strong personality.  This wine is sleek and dynamic, finishing with energy.  SRP:  $18  www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2015 Montepulciano; Contra Costa County, California:  This Montepulciano (a grape widely grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy), shows off floral notes on the nose.  This wine reminds me of my father’s favorite pie (strawberry rhubarb), as it broadcasts rhubarb and sweet juicy strawberries accented by brown baking spices and vanilla bean.  Intriguing and lively, with licorice drops and a strong mineral card adding complexity throughout; simply scrumptious.  SRP:  $30  www.rockwallwines.com

Rock Wall Wine Company 2013 Tannat “The Palindrome”; Sonoma and Solano County, California:  What a pleasure to taste this well-crafted new world Tannat.  It’s the national grape of Uruguay, and having visited there recently, I applaud winemaker Shauna Rosenblum for her delicious interpretation of this savvy grape.  Hints of smoke and black raspberry on the nose expand broadly on the palate to lush blackberry, plums and vanilla, with mushroom and spice box highlights.  Concentrated and far from shy, it finishes with a kick of cocoa and cinnamon toast. SRP:  $30 www.rockwallwines.com

Take a moment to visit the websites of these wineries, and order a bottle or more.  You’ll be missing out if you lose the opportunity to place some of these gems on your table, and/or in your cellar!